MOSCOW, November 25 (Sputnik) — Islamic State (IS) militants have launched an offensive on government forces in the Iraqi town of Baiji in an attempt to recapture the locality and gain control of the nation’s largest refinery, located nearby, Reuters reports citing witness accounts.
Mid-November, Iraqi security forces assisted by Shia militias and Kurdish peshmerga, as well as a US-led international coalition, managed to free Baiji, seized by Sunni insurgents during their blitz offensive in June. They also broke a months-long siege of the refinery, which once produced over 300,000 barrels of oil daily, accounting for 40 percent of Iraq’s production, according to al-Arabiya.
IS has reportedly launched the attack from the center of the city, located approximately 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Baghdad, and have been fighting in four out of the 12 neighborhoods. Clashes have been reported in Asri, Naft and Kahraba districts. “Yes, they infiltrated some areas,” an anonymous source confirmed, as quoted by Reuters, adding that “God willing, either they will withdraw or they will be exterminated.”
Baiji residents have reported seen Islamic State militants in the Makhmour hills, as well as crossing the Tigris River near the refinery, according to the news agency.
Baiji, a town of 200,000 people, is located on the road between the capital of Baghdad and Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq still controlled by IS. It is also a crucial relay point on the way to Tikrit, also controlled by radical Sunnis, meaning the Iraqi forces have cut supply lines to Saddam Hussein hometown.
The recapturing of Baiji and the oil refinery has been viewed as a major defeat for the extremist group, who currently controls large swathes of land in Iraq and neighboring Syria.